By Ermioni Pavlidou,
Bo Burnham’s latest comedy special named Inside was released on May 30th on Netflix, receiving six nominations at the 2021 Emmys, and winning 3 of them. The one-hour-and-a-half special was solely written, performed, and directed by Bo Burnham in a studio without an audience, which is strange for stand-up comedians who generally seek the audience’s interaction. It accurately sums up most people’s experience with quarantine, coping with “staying inside” and the sudden “stop” put to everyone’s regular social life, the past one year and a half due to the urgent health crisis; in his signature confusing, overwhelming whilst confessing manner.
Inside begins in a way to connote that it is a sequel to Burnham’s previous —and as it was said at the time, what would be his last— special Make Happy (2016), whose final scene shows him exiting a small space, where he sang his last song away from the live audience, going outside; announcing he is retiring from comedy due to his severe anxiety. He enjoys being the center of attention but avoids spiteful criticism, especially in the form of “hecklers” (a person who harasses and tries to disconcert others with questions, challenges, or gibes). Bo returns inside the same small space five years later and decides to create content again. The choice of the same spatial setting and the exact clothes he was wearing then, shows a similarity and draws a parallel with his approach on the topics in his current special and how he has been trying to return to work.
He tries to please the audience, “Look, I made you some content” (Inside), while simultaneously feeling the need to constantly explain himself to ease the guilt he is feeling for being privileged, yet unhappy as he is referring to too many social dysfunctions at once: “I had a privileged life, and I got lucky AND I am unhappy” (Make Happy), “Should I give away my money? No.”, and “Are you going to hold me accountable?” (Inside).
“Welcome to the Internet”
With abrupt cuts in between scenes, changes in lighting, hair length, and even mood, he tries to show the deterioration of one’s mental health as quarantine progresses. He also extendedly refers to the remaining entertainment source people have excessively been using to occupy themselves during quarantine: social media.
With songs such as “Welcome to the Internet” quickly breaking down what is happening in everyone’s only communication tool left, with parody bits like a YouTuber “ever-reacting” to himself reacting in a loop showing content drainage and how “art is dead”, with his emulation of a comedian on a stage using laugh tracks, with a song about exploitative labor, called “Unpaid Intern” and two verses about the richest man of 2020 “Jeff Bezos”, with the bone-crushing immobility of quarantine in everyday life in “All Time Low” and “Shit”, with a talking sock in “How the world works” that represents oppressed minorities and him being unnervingly calm but extremely threatening, he tries to address as many problems manifesting in the world as possible. He makes sure that the second act —if not the whole special— is filled till the last drop with conflict and strains, for it to be decompressed with a sad, melancholic, yet the least bit palliative, but not at all reassuring good-byes.
“So long, Goodbye”
Inside was widely criticized for “not even being that funny”, as it mostly featured the musical version of the anxiety, boredom, the loneliness felt by people in quarantine with fewer actual jokes, and a touch of overly general criticism that resembles “boomer opinions” (people with out-of-touch or closed-minded opinions). “[…] Now all these Zoomers, are telling me I’m out of touch!” Many people tried to analyze this special in a way they review and think of a movie they just watched with hidden meanings and symbolism. If we take for granted the aforementioned suggestion of Inside being the sequel to Make Happy, it was not meant to be “gut trembling fun”, as Bo knows and has mentioned before that “if you watch this thing alone, you probably will not laugh but maybe a few times you will exhale out of your nose” and he also knows people will be watching it alone due to quarantine. “How ‘bout I sit on the couch, and I watch you next time? I want to hear you tell a joke when no one is laughing in the background” (Goodbye).
The special ends fulfilling Bo’s initial intent. He wants all the attention drawn to him and demands “All Eyes On Me”, explaining why he stopped creating content for 5 years, fearing the ever-judging audience. With his hair and beard visibly longer, he bids the audience good-bye, leaving the room and being locked outside right after “promising to never go outside again”.
- How “Make Happy” ended is vital to understanding the start of “Inside”, insider, Available here
- “OK Boomer” definition, dictionary, Available here
- An Analysis of Bo Burnham: INSIDE (Video Essay), YouTube, Available here
- Heckler, Wikipedia, Available here
- “Inside”, Reviewed: Bo Burnham’s Virtuosic Portrait of a Mediated Mind, newyorker.com, Available here
- Bo Burnham: Inside Ending, Explained: Why Is Bo Burnham Feeling Trapped?, thecinemaholic.com, Available here